Heroes of fitness is a new series of posts I have decided to start. Each post will focus on a famous figure and discuss what the role of physical fitness in their life story.
My first Hero of Fitness is Theodore Roosevelt. Most of us know Theodore Roosevelt as the 26th President of the United States. Other noteworthy positions held by Roosevelt were Police Commissioner of New York City, Governor of New York, Vice Secretary of the Navy (a post which he would resign in order to serve in the Spanish American War), Commander of the First United States Volunteer Cavalry Regiment, and Vice President of the United States.
In addition to the aforementioned accolades, Roosevelt was an avid outdoorsman, having moved west to be a cattle wrangler in South Dakota following the death of both his mother and first wife on the same day; and leading a deadly expedition through the Amazon Rainforest, a trip which saw much of his party, including his son, lose their lives. He was also one of the first men to summit the legendary Matterhorn in Switzerland, only 6 months after the feat was first accomplished.
Roosevelt was a known by his peers and remembered today as a tough-guy and overall badass. He frequently participated in boxing until an opponent’s punch detached his retina, costing him his eyesight in the left eye. A final note on his toughness, is the now famous incident, in which a would be assassin shot Roosevelt in the chest. Not only did Roosevelt survive, but he actually finished the speech.
Part of what makes Roosevelt so impressive, especially in regards to his physical accomplishments, and why I decided to pick him as my first hero of fitness, is that he was diagnosed with asthma at an early age. The disease caused chronic wheezing and dramatically affected the curious young boy’s ability to explore and engage in sports and other activities.
One day, Theodore’s father, Teddy Sr., called the future president into his room and told him “Theodore, you have the mind but you have not the body, and without the help of the body, the mind cannot go as far as it should. You must make your body.” Theodore rose to the challenge and began putting himself through a rigorous exercise regimen on which he kept a daily diary, tracking his dips, pushups, pull-ups, his runs and his sit-ups. He also rode horses, practiced judo, and went on swims in freezing cold waters to increase his mental toughness. Within a few years, he had more than doubled his pushup and pull-up numbers, added a couple dozen pounds of muscle and earned the admiration of his peers.
His struggles with health and fitness were not yet over. Upon graduation from Harvard, Roosevelt was given a physical and advised by his doctor to avoid any physical activity at all and added that even running up the stairs could cause a heart attack. Roosevelt famously retorted “Doctor, I am going to do all the things you tell me not to do. If I’ve got the sort of life you have described, I don't care how short it is.”
What I admire about Theodore Roosevelt is that he was told to quit, and could have accepted that his lot in life was to be a weak, sickly person. Instead he stood up the face of adversity and decided he wasn't going to be a victim of his circumstances, making the conscious decision to strengthen himself so that he could live the life he wanted. He made the decision to become great and his body responded, allowing him to go forth and live the extraordinary and incredible life that he did.
Let his example inspire us. We all all face adversity and an array of valid reasons to throw in the towel and quit. Let us follow the example of Theodore Roosevelt and choose to be strong. Life is not easy. There will always be a good reason to quit, something that stands in our way, we cannot control this. What we can control is how we will respond, whether we will choose to be strong in the face of adversity. As Theodore himself once said: “I wish to preach, not the doctrine of ignoble ease, but the doctrine of the strenuous life.”